Like many European Union nations, France has strict gun-control laws that make it hard for anyone, including law-abiding citizens, to own firearms. And it's unlikely that will change after three gunmen opened fire at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo's office in Paris on Wednesday, killing 12 people, including two police officers.
Gary Mauser, a professor at the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, who has written extensively on European gun control, said any proposals to change France's gun laws after the massacre probably wouldn't get very far. “The Europeans are unlikely to change legislation in order to encourage civilians to arm themselves for protection,” he said. “The armed guards at Charlie Hebdo were professionals and they were killed by the terrorists -- and without wounding their attackers.”
Mark Barnes, director of the International Association for the Protection of Civil Arms Rights in Washington, D.C., said the gun-control debate is long over for Europe. “It's certainly a logical question to ask, because it is so engrained in Europe that the state is responsible for protecting its citizens,” said Barnes. “What you have to recognize is that the right to self-defense is shaped much differently in Europe … It will be interesting to see if this does lead to a legitimate discussion.”
The most recent self-defense debate in France played out in 2013 after a 67-year-old jeweler shot and killed a 19-year-old man who robbed his store at gunpoint and beat him in the process. Stephan Turk, the jeweler, killed Anthony Asli with an unregistered gun and was charged with voluntary homicide for shooting Asli in the back as he ran from the store. Many in France defended Turk.
The right-wing National Front, whose candidate Marine La Pen finished third in the presidential race behind François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy in 2012, also defended Turk, saying his decision to defend himself was indicative of a lack of trust “in the state or the forces of order,” according to the New Yorker.
The Charlie Hebdo attack, however, involved illegal guns and probably won't prompt policy changes, experts said. “Unfortunately, they don’t debate in Europe,” said Gottlieb. “They have no Second Amendment rights or anything like it, so as far as they are concerned, there is no debate.”
Before European gun-rights advocates can even think about repealing strict gun laws in their countries, they have to make the case for having a debate in the first place, he said. “[Those groups] are dealing with being able to just own firearms and trying to make self-defense a legitimate issue,” Gottlieb said. “You don’t just have the laws of individual countries, you have EU laws, too. … Part of the debate is ‘Should the EU get to dictate to countries or should member states be able to decide for themselves?’”
The EU requires member states to have a set of minimum gun-control laws, including stringent background-check laws, to ensure that a gun buyer is “not likely to be a danger to themselves, to public order or to public safety.” The EU considers a conviction for a past violent intentional crime as “indicative of such danger.” Member states are free to enact stricter gun-control laws.
There are an average of 31 guns per 100 people in France, making it the 11th highest in global gun ownership per capita, according to Deseret News. As a general rule, “firearms which have no legitimate sporting or recreational use are not permitted entry into France,” according to the French Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Despite strong gun-control laws across the EU, there is still some appetite for even stricter laws. A 2013 poll found 53 percent of Europeans wanted stricter laws on who can own, buy or sell guns. Roughly 58 percent wanted laws to be more uniform across the bloc. In an op-ed in late 2013, Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet called for more cooperation between EU nations to reduce smuggling by sharing information and closing down smuggling routes.
The gunmen who attacked the Charlie Hebdo offices used AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifles, which are some of the cheapest and most ubiquitous assault rifles in the world. An AK-47 typically sells for around $1,100 to $1,800 in France on the black market, according to Bloomberg.
If there arises a debate in France following the Charlie Hebdo attack, said Barnes, it will be over national security and gun trafficking, not gun rights.